What do you think is the main challenge women face as company founders and members of a boardroom?
Getting funding is definitely something that female founders struggle with, as statistics show that only a few % of the VC money goes to female-led start-ups. However, this has improved in the last few years, there are even special funds targeting minority and female-led teams, which I think is amazing! And it is all thanks to all the bad-ass superwomen who have paved the way for us.
On the other hand, I just recently heard a great speech by a fellow female founder while she was accepting an award in the “Stereotype Crusher of the Year” category. And she challenged the idea of picking her, even though the top three consisted of her and two guys. I mean, she was the obvious winner because of her start-up’s mind-blowing results, but she really said what many of us are thinking: We don’t want to be a number to fill in a certain quota and for the company to be called “diverse”. We want to be picked for our knowledge, skills, brilliant ideas, and vision.
How has your experience as Vespia’s founder helped you position yourself as a female leader in our industry?
I don’t necessarily like to always highlight the fact that I am a female leader, I would say that I am a leader and a start-up founder. However, until it becomes the new norm to have amazing women leaders on EVERY SINGLE team out there, I do tend to throw in the occasional “female” part in there as well.
As a leader of Vespia, I am a big supporter of open communication inside the team. Yes, the caring nature is a more female trait. I always try to be there for my team, asking whether they need my help. Our whole team consists of kick-ass specialists and therefore they usually don’t need my help. But it is still important for them to know that IF they need help, they can come to me. This is how you develop a team that will stick with you through thick and thin.
As a female leader in our industry, which I consider to be both compliance/ AML, as well as the start-up scene in general, I always try to support other boss ladies and be an active member of the female empowerment groups.
And most important, I always try to be myself. I like to explain complicated compliance topics in simple terms, which I feel is lacking in our industry of lawyers, regulators, and AML experts that speak in legal jargon. I have applied this to Vespia as well, as at some point we will start targeting the non-AML obligated segments, and it is not really about regulations for them, but rather about knowing who they are dealing with.
What are your top 3 tips for women as board members?
- Ask questions, speak up and challenge others. Many in the room are probably thinking the same thing. Be the brave one and ask this question!
- Be honest, and it is okay to be vulnerable.
- Wear what you want. I hear some ladies feel the need to wear pants, shirts, and suits in board meetings with the only purpose to look more masculine. If it is your style – amazing. If not, don’t compromise, wear those dresses and skirts!
What about your top 3 tips for women as entrepreneurs and company founders?
- Surround yourself with people who you like to work with, who support you, who understand your vision, and who motivate you.
- Don’t work hard, work smart. Take the time to see what activity brings you the most value and concentrate on that. The emails will still be there tomorrow.
- You don’t need to do everything yourself. Start hiring people as soon as possible. Start with senior people and let them do what they do best, let them sell the product and provide customer support, let them build their own amazing teams.
What is transactional leadership and why should it be avoided?
Transactional leadership is a management style where the team lead (manager) uses rewards in case of the team’s good results, but also punishment for bad results.
It has its advantages and disadvantages. In a very chaotic environment or in a crisis, it actually proves to be quite handy, when you need to be firm and set clear goals and expectations for your team. And if the team doesn’t deliver, you weed out the weak links. However, as you can hear already, it does sound quite Darwinist (read: outdated).
The negatives of transactional leadership are that it limits creativity and there is a chance that people will not handle the pressure and will start leaving the team due to lack of motivation.
In our Vespia team, we try to be as agile as possible, not only on the product development side but also on the business side. Of course, there needs to be some structure, strategy, goals, and rules, but good results don’t always come in the form of specific numbers, sales, or revenue. In the start-up world, a good result often comes in the form of a viral LinkedIn post, a partnership with a big brand, or a new feature launch.
What would you say to your 10-year-old self with regards to your career choice and professional experiences so far? Any wise tips?
- Be curious, ask more questions, because otherwise you will never get the answers you need. Researching something yourself will take longer.
- It is okay to switch careers, switch university majors, switch schools, etc. This one choice of a profession in your 18-20s doesn’t define your whole career. School in general doesn’t define you.
- You don’t need to be a math genius or even a developer to work in IT. These days, it’s all about those sweet soft skills. Know how to negotiate, delegate, prioritize, work in a team, compromise, communicate, get your point across.
- Take risks (in reasonable amounts). If you do not try it, you will never know what the outcome will be.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our network?
When I got into the RegTech (Regulatory Technology) industry and started going to conferences, I noticed that there is never a separate category for us, KYC, KYB, AML compliance people. I still struggle with the “Am I a Fintech or AI/ ML or cybersecurity even?”
My dream is to go to a general (start-up) conference and tick the box RegTech or Verification, KYC, whatever they call it, maybe we will even think of a special name for it. I just want to see an option for us at every single conference.
In order to popularize RegTech, we at Vespia have decided to start building a RegTech community, where people in our industry can share ideas, career opportunities, and new solutions. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/julia-ront/) and I will tell you more.
Julia Ront is the Founder and CEO of Vespia, an Estonian business verification startup. Julia has been a RegTech evangelist for the last 6 years and was a core team member in the Estonian identity verification unicorn Veriff. She is also an active thought leader in the female founder community. Julia’s goal is to popularize KYB and attract more women into the RegTech industry.